On this day May 2, 1982

HMS Conqueror launched three torpedoes and sank ARA General Belgrano, the only ship ever to have been sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine.

The Belgrano sinking after being struck by torpedoes

The Belgrano sinking

The ARA General Belgrano was an Argentine Navy cruiser sunk in a controversial incident during the Falklands War with the loss of 323 lives.

Losses from the Belgrano totalled just over half of Argentine deaths in the Falklands conflict.

She is the only ship ever to have been sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine and only the second sunk by any type of submarine since World War II. The Royal Navy submarine used three Mk 8 mod 4 torpedoes.

Although outside the British-declared Total Exclusion Zone of 370 km (200 nautical miles) radius from the islands, the British decided that the group was a threat. After consultation at Cabinet level, the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, agreed that Commander Chris Wreford-Brown should attack the Belgrano.

At 15:57 on May 2, Conqueror fired three conventional Mk 8 mod 4 torpedoes, each with an 800-pound (363 kg) Torpex warhead, two of which hit the General Belgrano. The Conqueror was also equipped with the newer Mark 24 Tigerfish homing torpedo, but there were doubts about its reliability. The Mk 8 dated back to 1925 and was not a homing design.

One of the torpedoes struck 10 to 15 metres aft of the bow, outside the area protected by either the ship’s side armour or the internal anti-torpedo bulge. The effect of this was to blow off the bow of the ship, but the internal bulkheads held, and the forward powder magazine for the 40-mm gun did not detonate. There was no one in that part of the ship at the time of the explosion.

The second torpedo struck about three-quarters of the way along the ship, just outside the rear limit of the side armour plating. The torpedo punched through the side of the ship before exploding in the after machine room. The explosion tore upward through two messes and a relaxation area called “the Soda Fountain” and finally ripped a 20-metre-long hole in the main deck.

Later reports put the number of deaths in the area around the explosion at 275 men. There was no fire after the explosion, but the ship rapidly filled with smoke. The explosion also damaged the Belgrano’s electrical power system, preventing her from putting out a radio distress call.Argentine and Chilean ships rescued 770 men in all from May 3 to May 5.

In total 323 were killed in the attack: 321 members of the crew and two civilians who were on board at the time. There was some controversy surrounding the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano.

The sinking also became a cause célèbre for anti-war campaigners (such as Labour MP Tam Dalyell). Part of the reason for the controversy was that early reports claimed or suggested that approximately 1,000 Argentine sailors had been killed in the sinking.

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